curcumin
Diet & Nutrition

Contrary to Decades of Hype, Curcumin Is Unlikely to Boost Health

Curcumin, a compound in the turmeric plant, has long been hailed as a natural treatment for a wide range of health conditions, including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. However, a January 2017 review of the scientific literature has found that curcumin is probably not all it’s purported to be. The report in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Medicinal Chemistry instead cites evidence that, contrary to numerous reports, the compound has limited — if any — therapeutic benefit.

A release from the society notes that turmeric, a spice often added to curries and mustards because of its distinct flavor and color, has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Since the early 1990’s, scientists have zeroed in on curcumin, which makes up about 3 to 5 percent of turmeric, as the potential constituent that might give turmeric its health-boosting properties. More than 120 clinical trials to test these claims have been or are in the process of being run by clinical investigators. To get to the root of curcumin’s essential medicinal chemistry, the research groups of Michael A. Walters and Guido F. Pauli teamed up to extract key findings from thousands of scientific articles on the topic.

The researchers’ review of the vast curcumin literature provides evidence that curcumin is unstable under physiological conditions and not readily absorbed by the body, properties that make it a poor therapeutic candidate. Additionally, they could find no evidence of a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial on curcumin to support its status as a potential cure-all. But, the authors say, this doesn’t necessarily mean research on turmeric should halt. Turmeric extracts and preparations could have health benefits, although probably not for the number of conditions currently touted. The researchers suggest that future studies should take a more holistic approach to account for the spice’s chemically diverse constituents that may synergistically contribute to its potential benefits.